Thursday, May 12, 2011
Hardening Off Seedlings
If you are like me, you have been nursemaiding some garden seedlings throughout the long winter, making sure they are warm, well-fed, and in comfortable pots. With spring finally here and the last frost date past for zone 5B/6 (maps differ about which zone we are in), it is time to plant the tender crops, like tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and peppers. I will be rolling these out into the garden over the next couple of weeks, time permitting.
First, however, the plants have to be hardened off. All this means is that the plant has to be given the chance to get used to being outside in the sun and wind before you plunk it in the ground. This is not a difficult process, but it can be scary your first time out.
First, make sure your seedlings are well-watered, look healthy, and are of a size that you wish to plant in your garden. Hopefully, you have been slowing exposing them to open windows and increasingly direct sun just as a result of the change of seasons.
Then, take your seedlings and put them outside in a place where they will get part sun, part shade, and some breeze if possible. Above you see my tomatoes sitting by the house on our bench, getting a lot of sun but the occasional shadow from the house.
Leave them there for 2-4 hours the first day, checking occasionally that they don't look wilted or burnt. You will know a sunburn if the thin, tender leaves become papery, dry, and a little brown. If that happens, bring the seedlings inside immediately. The plant will recover from a burnt leaf or two, but just like you, they don't want a sunburn all over.
The next day, increase the time outside, and do so again for another day or two, until you would feel comfortable leaving the plant outside all the time. And there you go: your seedling is "hardened off" and ready to go into the garden.
Fast: Hardening off is the last step in growing your own plants from seed, and it really doesn't take long.
Cheap: This is all part of the money-saving strategy of growing your own garden plants. This year, it looks like I will have more than two dozen tomato plants grown from about 5 packs of seeds (because I wanted different varieties). That means I'm getting each plant for about 83 cents, which I could not do at a commercial greenhouse.
Good: There is something very satisfying about starting from seed and ending with the crop.
Check back tomorrow, when I will share my tomato-planting process.
Posted by Jennifer Lorenzetti at 9:17 AM